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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount in that we have to consider perception. Most of the people who drive on our roads are law-abiding citizens. I also have to say that I do not believe that the term "road rage" is helpful in that it tends to glamorise

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such activity. In my view it is nothing short of unacceptable violent and criminal behaviour carried out, as the noble Viscount said, by very few people.

As to what is being done and what more can be done, I can tell the House that discussions are being held involving the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Department of Transport, the AA and the RAC, together with insurance companies which can also bring pressure to bear. The Department of Transport has produced guidance for learner drivers which it is hoped will be incorporated in the Highway Code. Indeed, it is also hoped that some of the questions forming part of the driving test will refer to behaviour on the roads. I understand that the AA and the RAC have produced guidance, some in written form, and that there is even a video which is aimed at younger drivers.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say whether this is entirely a male problem?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I should like to say yes to my noble friend's question, but I understand that we females are becoming pretty aggressive in our driving, although I hope that we fall a long way short of criminal behaviour. Nevertheless, we are at least on a par with our partners.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether she read the reported case last week where someone developed road rage because another motorist was travelling too slowly? Further, can my noble friend bear such a situation in mind and perhaps ask the Department of Transport to instruct drivers who drive slowly to use the slow lane on a motorway? I believe that many people are provoked by other motorists who drive slowly and steadily in the centre lane, thus creating a danger to other traffic and, indeed, the build up of a considerable amount of irritation as regards other drivers.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my noble friend has made a most important point. Indeed, I expect that that will be part of the guidance which will feature in the Highway Code and form part of the questioning for those taking driving tests.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is not the noble Baroness aware that that is no excuse for what is no more nor less than common assault, and that the separation and naming of a particular form of assault is probably not beneficial to the victim? Indeed it is arguable that the separation of rape from common assault has not been beneficial to women.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the important thing is that the law is adequate to deal with this offence. This is not just a road traffic offence; it is common assault. There is a large number of traffic offences such as speeding, dangerous driving, careless driving, drinking and taking drugs while driving, causing a danger to road users, refusing to give a name or address when stopped, and inconsiderate driving. In addition there is a large number of offences under the criminal law such as attempted murder, manslaughter--all of which we have seen on our roads--murder, common assault, making

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threats to kill, wounding with intent, malicious wounding and using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards a person with intent to cause that person to believe immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or her. I believe it is that side of the law which probably applies to many of the cases we have read about recently.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, as regards the guidance that my noble friend says will be incorporated in the Highway Code, is it possible that that could be sent to those of us who have not looked at the Highway Code for 30 years or so since we took our tests?

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, at least I am honest about it. There is one way of achieving my proposal. Each year we are sent a letter from the licensing authority about taxing our cars. Could not one simple sheet of paper be attached to that to give guidance to those of us not taking a driving test or reading the Highway Code?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I recognise the honesty of my noble friend. I think, as she spoke, there were probably some guilty faces around the Chamber. The Department of Transport has already issued its guidance. The intention is that it should be incorporated in the next edition of the Highway Code. The other suggestion that my noble friend made was a rather good one; namely, that we could all receive guidance when we renew our licences. I shall pass on those comments to my right honourable friend.

Baroness Nicol: My Lords, does the Minister accept that I agree with her wish not to glamorise this behaviour by calling it road rage or any other apparently acceptable phrase? Will she use her best endeavours to ensure that certainly Members of Parliament and Ministers do not use the term, and if possible ensure that the press do not use the term because it constitutes a kind of excuse for this behaviour?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, we can exhort people not to use the term. I do not know that I have that much control over Members of Parliament and I have absolutely none at all over the press.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, is it not the case that one of the triggers for road rage--this is not an excusable trigger--is the fact that so many motorists insist on giving improper warning signals of what they intend to do and, even worse, invite other people to take action as a result of their signals? Could not the Highway Code be strengthened in its prohibition of unnecessary and damaging signals?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I shall certainly pass on those comments. I understand that all of those points are being taken on board by the group of people who are meeting to determine what can be done next. The noble Lord makes an important point.

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Berkshire: Unitary Authorities

2.53 p.m.

Lord Bancroft asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they still intend to implement their proposals for splitting the Royal County of Berkshire into six unitary authorities; and, if so, what is their latest estimate of the costs involved.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): Yes, my Lords. We intend to lay an order tomorrow conferring unitary powers on the six Berkshire district councils. The Royal County of Berkshire will remain. The first bids from the authorities concerned suggest that transitional costs may be between £16 million and £20 million in the year preceding reorganisation.

Lord Bancroft: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Earl for that uncharacteristically disobliging reply. Is he aware that the decision to dismember, to the point of destruction, the Royal County will cause dismay and strong opposition, especially in this Chamber, when the separate order and its accompanying O'Hagan amendment come to be debated? As to extra costs, would he care to comment on the latest extra costs which are transitional costs of £6 million a year in years four to 10 and continuing extra costs of between £18 million and £20 million a year, making a total of £25 million a year, or an additional £90 a year for the average council tax payer in Berkshire?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord should have found it a disobliging Answer. I know that he is concerned about what happens in Berkshire, as indeed are a number of noble Lords. However, he will recall that it was the local government reorganisation commission which discussed whether there should be a change or whether there should be unitary authorities. It went out to consultation on the basis of four bodies, and Berkshire County Council at that time supported that proposal. Five bodies were then recommended and for reasons of which the noble Lord will be aware my right honourable friend decided on six. The noble Lord will also know that that proposal has had the widespread support of all Members of Parliament, with the possible exception of one Liberal Democrat who decided to support his own district of Newbury. I suggest it would be quite wrong that that should have been overturned by my right honourable friend, who has taken the advice of an independent review and also of local Members of Parliament.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this matter was most carefully considered in great detail and that the decision arrived at is accepted by most people in the area as being sensible?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for making that point. When there is a change, some people become upset. However, a number of people have accepted the change that is proposed. All

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those in another place who are representatives of the people have also accepted it. The best course is to try to make it work.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will the noble Earl confirm that there is no intention to abolish the Royal County of Berkshire; the intention is to abolish the county council of Berkshire as recommended by the Local Government Commission? Is he aware, in so far as the costs are concerned, that the county council has arrived at these without discussion and has refused any discussion at all with the six district authorities? Indeed, the compilation is such as to make it extremely suspect and unreliable.


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